I don’t know anything about coding. Pythons are animals. The last time I typed code, it was in C++ in middle school, and they made me do it. However, the deeper I get into the automated home rabbit hole, the more necessary it’s become for me to understand small basics of coding. So I took a plunge and bought a Raspberry Pi Zero W, which comes pre-built with an antenna for wifi and bluetooth.
For those of you who don’t know yet, the Raspberry Pi is a low-cost, fully functional computer. Most of them can fit in your average sandwich bag. Mine can fit in a tic-tac box. (Yes, I tried.) It also comes complete with a program invented to teach children Python (a coding language), which is what I’ll be using on my journey to do something useful with this $5 computer. There’s a whole lot you can do with a Raspberry Pi when it comes to automation–the possibilities are limited literally only by your coding ability, or by your “tutorial hunting” ability. As a Pinterest user, my tutorial hunting skills are on point and will hopefully make up for my lack of coding experience.
I fully intend to bring you all along on this journey with me, in whatever Frankenstein-like venture I choose for my small computer. However, first I’d like to look at the possible projects for someone like me, with an interest in automation, and see what others have done!
The number one coolest project I’ve seen is a Magic Mirror. While this wasn’t done on a Pi Zero, it was done on several different Pi computers. They’re basically comprised of the Pi computer, some 2-way-mirror glass, and a monitor. People have put all sorts of different displays on their Magic Mirrors.
Pictured is Michael Teuw’s Magic Mirror², the open-source program that allows this mirror to display weather, time, and a special message. As a community-based open source software, more modules that work with this program are made available by coders every day. Other than the basic ones that come with the source code (time, date, weather, compliments, calendar, and newsfeed), there are some very interesting modules available. Train times, Fitbit data, investment information, bitcoin trackers, horoscopes, and daily jokes can all appear in the mirror. There are also a number of modules that allow the mirror to interact with various smart-home devices, such as the Echo, or Nest thermostats. If I’m being honest, magic mirrors are what appeal to me most when thinking about my Pi, but as there are currently no magic mirror tutorials for the Pi Zero, I’d have to start from scratch (not an option). If my past behavior with devices is any indication, I’m going to buy more Raspberry Pi’s soon, so I can do everything.
As a broke, Brooklyn hipster, I don’t really worry too much about break-ins. What are they going to steal? My mom’s friend’s grandma’s old couch, or just my friend’s mom’s work-friend’s old tv? However for people who like the idea of camera security in their homes, Raspberry Pi offers a number of options. There’s a Pi Camera cable that you can connect to the small computer, which opens a lot of doors, security-wise, or you can connect any USB webcam. MotionPi is open-source software that, combined with an ethernet cable, enables you to view your camera feed online. Users have also set up servers which enables them to view multiple security camera feeds through MotionPi.
You’re able to edit the rotation, frame rate, brightness, and resolution of your video, and can set it to begin recording when it senses motion, or to take still images. Since both the Pi and the Pi Camera are essentially miniscule, these cameras are easy to conceal in your home, in case you are worried about the robbers knowing that you’re watching. I don’t plan to do this, but if YOU do, I found this tutorial very helpful.
Some projects can turn your Pi into a hub that controls your entire smart-home. Connecting multiple devices and creating a single platform that controls all of them is possibly my favorite concept in the whole world. One day, when I am a master coder, I’ll have the smart house from Smart House, the Disney Channel Original Movie. But for now, each of the tutorials I find for creating a smart-home hub from your Raspberry Pi involves things like soldering, and pegboards, and as much as I’d love to, I’m not there yet. Nobody wants to see me with a soldering gun – I’m usually not even allowed to play with the hot glue gun.
As someone who pays GoDaddy an unreasonable amount of money to keep a website that I no longer update running for no reason, I was excited to learn you can use the Pi as a web server, from which you can host live websites or local ones. You can even use your Pi, in conjunction with an external hard drive, as a “dropbox” clone, to access your photos, videos, and files from any internet connected device. As I also have a disused external hard drive, this is very appealing.
By installing Apache, and following the steps listed here, you can easily set up a server in your home on the Pi and host websites, and files, without paying GoDaddy unreasonable amounts of money.
So, what do I plan on doing with my Raspberry Pi Zero W?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, I definitely will end up doing some form of patchwork Frankenstein tutorial jacking. My current idea is to set up a “home base hub” on an old monitor, involving the code from the Magic Mirror projects, and Apache, from the server project. I’d like to be able to look at the screen and get everything from my daily schedule, to the weather, to the internet speed in my apartment, but also to be able to access that home base display from other locations, and possibly have some file access away from home. My confidence level is incredibly high, my experience is remarkably low, and what’s exciting is that both of those things are fine.
The Raspberry Pi is a computer literally invented for kids to be able to pick it up and learn coding. Elementary and middle schools around the country are using Pi to teach basic coding skills to children, who are in turn coming up with incredible ideas and making them reality. And if literal children can do it? I’ll manage.